Gale Group (http://www.gale.com), a business unit of Thomson Corp., has launched an e-book program that will make a large collection of its reference material available to online library patrons through netLibrary (http://www.netlibrary.com). Any library with a netLibrary account can access the Gale e-books. At press time no list of titles was available, but the company plans to offer 30 to 50 of them sometime this fall with hundreds more scheduled for the future. Initial titles will include single-volume and multivolume reference works, some from the Macmillan and Scribner lines. Prices for e-book versions of the Gale collection will increase the prices of the print versions.
The Gale family of publishing imprints includes such noted reference brands as Macmillan Reference USA, Charles Scribner's Sons, Thorndike Press, Wheeler Publishing, and Taft Group. They license their digital content through nearly 100 outlets.
Gale's president Allen Paschal said, "Considering the enhanced searching capabilities and round-the-clock availability of e-books, this format is a natural addition to our delivery model." John Barnes, Gale's senior vice president of product development, described the strategy behind the launch as a natural midpoint—even transition—product line between print and Gale's high-end digital InfoTrac or Resource Center services.
According to Paschal, none of the titles under development already has a Web or CD-ROM version available. Searching features on Gale e-books will generally apply the standard formatting used by netLibrary, with some customization for the series, but not for individual titles. Basically, as Paschal and Barnes describe it, users will have the access points they would have from using the print source—tables of contents, browsable layouts, back-of-the-book indexes, etc.—plus the free-text searching capabilities of Adobe Acrobat Reader's PDF resource.
Marge Gammon, netLibrary's senior director of marketing and publisher relations, confirmed that the company did not plan to do any special formatting to produce unique customization for individual titles. However, netLibrary does offer full-text searching across multiple books.
The netLibrary service supports downloading. Libraries set varying checkout periods for e-books and then have them automatically checked back into the library collection for use by other patrons.
Apparently, netLibrary had approached Gale before financial troubles pushed it into a sale to OCLC late last year. Paschal said that Gale has an ongoing interest in creating e-books and has looked at a number of possible partners. Now the OCLC takeover gives Gale great confidence in working with netLibrary as a first jump into the e-book market.
Barnes noted: "We're genuinely pleased to be working with netLibrary and by extension, OCLC, its parent. Like Gale, they're committed to technological innovation and have a passion for serving the library community."
The netLibrary connection is not exclusive, however, and Paschal indicated that Gale is still looking at other options, which may include ebrary, or even direct sales to end-users.
Gale e-books will be sold as individual units or in bundles with print titles. Although final prices are not yet set, Barnes indicated that libraries purchasing only the e-book version would generally pay around 10-percent more than the price for the print, while purchasers of both print and e-book versions could expect to pay 150 percent of the print-only price. He admitted to having heard librarian complaints about higher charges for electronic versions, but assured me that the costs of hosting, maintaining, and supporting electronic products ran higher than printing, binding, and shipping costs.
Gammon said that she knew librarians found the higher pricing "counter-intuitive." She too attributed the difference to what it cost to "maintain, build, and service archives, market products, design training materials, and supply customer support," not to mention the technological innovation required to improve future functionality.
Speaking of pricing, when Gammon was asked whether netLibrary purchases were permanent—i.e., whether libraries do not have to keep paying subscription rates to maintain ownership—she described netLibrary's policy as follows: "Libraries have the options to pay 15 percent of the price of the book annually or 55 percent of the price of the book one time. In the latter case, they own the title. In the first instance, they do not own the title."
Canny (one might even say cunning) acquisitions librarians might consider the option to pay 15 percent annually an attractive opportunity when applied to continually revised reference works. However, before that open window of opportunity could give their revenue projections the sniffles, one could expect to see vendors slamming and locking the window—either by removing frequently revised reference services from the program or, more likely, amending the netLibrary policy.